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Cheri Knight — American Rituals
(RVNG Intl. Freedom to Spend FTS019, 1984/2022, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-03-07

American Rituals Cover art

The recordings on American Rituals document the time when Cheri Knight was a student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. That school’s official motto is Omnia Extares, which is translated as “Let it all hang out,” reflecting the era of its founding (1967). Evergreen has long been known for experimentation in the arts, and Knight took advantage of the facilities to record this experimental music. The earliest recording here, “Water Project #2261,” dates from 1980 and is a lovely example of DIY minimalism that features piano, xylophone, vocals, and an odd sound that might be from a synthesizer. The different elements combine and intertwine to produce a tapestry of variations that belies the simplicity of the individual elements. 1981 is represented by two tracks. The first is “Tips on Filmmaking,” a bouncy exercise in overdubs with multiple marimba parts, a drum kit, several vocal parts, and hand claps, which work into a loping groove with an African feel. There are also sections of long tones with spoken vocals. The other 1981 track, “No One’s Hands,” is the only previously unreleased piece — the others all appeared on various compilations that would be near-impossible to track down. “No One’s Hands” is a twelve minute meditation with a loop of vocal parts that have the flavor of a Gregorian chant. The chanting is used as backing for a whispered story that’s a little hard to follow due to the low level in the mix. It’s more than a little reminiscent of Laurie Anderson’s experimental storytelling, and it’s worth noting that Big Science didn’t come out until 1982. Other tracks feature similar techniques in their construction: simple repeating patterns that are combined in varying ways, multiple vocal parts that repeat short phrases, occasional percussion instruments, and a willful disregard of typical structures. Another reference would be Brian Eno’s early work, say the less band-oriented pieces on Another Green World. In all, American Rituals is a great example of what kind of art can result from a creative person getting free reign in a well-equipped facility, and proof positive that New York and San Francisco were not the only places where new musical technologies were being used in innovative ways.

Filed under: Archives, 2022 releases, 1984 recordings

Related artist(s): Cheri Knight

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